Until Next Year, XC
BCL League Championship: Though CPS XC performed excellently and raced our hearts out, our victories were bittersweet.
For the majority of the massive 50+ person team, this race marked the end of the season, the culmination of months of work. After multiple summer preseason workouts, countless nights getting home hours later than our peers, so many long bus rides singing karaoke, and so many exhausting long runs, the 2016-2017 XC season ended for most runners with this single race.
Let me clarify what I meant by the “majority” – the JV season ends with the championship race, while the 7-person Varsity teams and alternates continue running for three more weeks, competing at NCS and (hopefully) State. Regardless, League Champs was very important to Varsity too – winning League would in itself be an amazing accomplishment, but it would also give us a confidence boost and momentum to succeed at NCS and qualify for State.
Freshmen were especially affected by the end of the season – many had not participated in such team sports in middle school, and didn’t understand the connections that they would build doing cross country. One freshman remarked, “I learned the true meaning of family and I couldn’t have asked to spend this time with any other people. Thank you for pushing me to my limits and it was amazing to learn and enjoy and experience what XC is all about.”
The obvious passion and hard work of the season paid off – both boys and girls JV won first place. Boys Varsity narrowly beat our rival, St. Joe’s, by a mere 3 points, taking the title of League Champions. Girls Varsity took second place, which is still very remarkable – moreover, their determination to do well at NCS signals even greater things to come.
The race itself was chaotic, and both College Prep and St. Joe’s exhibited desperation and determination. In the first minute of the race, I got “boxed in” (stuck in the midst of many other runners) and consequently stubbed my toe and ran into a branch. Nevertheless, I enjoyed my race despite St. Joe’s being somewhat generous with their use of elbows. In fact, when I passed one St. Joe’s runner at the end, he blatantly shoved me.
However, everyone had a great race – Coakley said afterwards that we truly raced as a team, and focused on making every pass. When we circled up for the team cheer at the end, JV rushed into the middle of the circle and as we shouted in unison, our voices echoed through the ravine. The spirit and joy of our team in that moment perfectly embodied the energy and teamwork of this season.
The NCS Championship:
Cross country. When most people think of this sport, they picture individual mindless running, requiring no skill or strategy and lacking even the intensity or excitement of short-distance sprinting.
However, the singular experience of strategizing for NCS shows that this assumption couldn’t have been more ill-informed. While the JV season ended with the League Championships, NCS was the culmination of all that varsity had been working for the entire season, and we were determined to qualify to the State Championship.
We were constantly talking race strategy for days before, and captains sent out veritable essays on how to utilize our team’s strengths while mitigating any weaknesses: the importance of packing, our experience with hills, notes on the course, and recounting our experiences with our competitors.
But at the same time, all this preparation could be lost during the race itself. The unpredictability of cross country is fickle – a sick stomach, a sore throat, or an inexplicably tight muscle the day of the race could dash all previous plans to pack with runners from other schools.
Runners need to adapt – if you run into a tree (which has happened to me) at the beginning of the race, you can’t give up and must stop thinking, “I just ran into a tree and lost countless precious seconds. Guess I just won’t have a good race anymore.” Or a less extreme example – fixating on your cramping calf for the whole race, which won’t help you.
You acknowledge whatever is irking you, let it go, and race the best race you can at that moment. You need to keep moving forward – both physically and mentally.
In fact, cross country, contrary to popular belief, is a mental sport. Obviously one needs to train for hours to develop the stamina and strength required, but when it comes down to it, cross country is a test of willpower.
Runners exchange pain for victory. While runners do need proper form and shoes and whatnot, cross country is the sport where how much you decide to push yourself during the competition determines your place. For most runners on men’s varsity, the race will be over in 17 minutes or less.
17 minutes of physical exertion will not drain you of all you’ve got – most recover from their races within 10-15 minutes, and can even run the whole race again, albeit slightly slower. While pacing is obviously important, Coakley reminded us that whether or not we went to state was simply determined by how much pain we were willing to endure for 17 minutes.
With all this running through our heads, and a burning desire in our hearts to go to State, we woke up on Saturday eager to race. We had to wake up with enough time to finish eating breakfast by 6:00 a.m. – our race was at 9:00 and we needed time to digest our food. We had been loading up on carbs for days prior, and we knew what was at stake.
If we didn’t qualify to State, this would be the end of our season. For the seniors, this would be their last high school cross country race. If we did qualify to state, we would get to train together for another week.
We knew it wouldn’t be easy – although our team had depth, we didn’t have frontrunners of the caliber St. Joe’s had in Cooper Teare – and frontrunners are worth much more in races with many runners, such as NCS, due to the way scoring works in cross country.
However, we were ready – we had been waking up early on Saturdays to go to track workouts at 9:00 a.m. Our bodies were prepared for the early morning race, and all our hard work and planning paid off – boys got 5th at NCS and girls got 4th, qualifying both teams to state.
As we circled up for the team cheer, I was just glad that I got to run with such an amazing, dedicated team for another week.